WASHINGTON – In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Army has initiated several policy exceptions that will impact enlisted promotion cycles scheduled until the end of this fiscal year, unless terminated sooner, G-1 officials announced March 27.
Due to the recent restrictions placed on travel and training, the Army is altering its approach to semi-centralized promotion boards and the course requirements for advancement, said Sgt. Maj. Mark A. Clark, Army G-1 Directorate of Military Personnel Management.
The exception will impact the active-duty and Army Reserve force, with many of the alterations taking effect during the May promotion cycle, according to the sergeant major. The National Guard will produce additional guidance at a later date.
“The overall (objective) is to protect the force and preserve readiness,” Clark said. "We are trying to get ahead and be proactive and creative. We want commanders and Soldiers to understand that we’re thinking about what’s best for them and what’s best for the Army, all at the same time.”
As the COVID-19 environment evolves, the Army will continue to review its policy exceptions every 30 days and make necessary changes as needed, G-1 officials assured. The promotion policy modifications will be in place until Sept. 30.
Providing specifics about the change in promotion procedures, Clark said commanders are now authorized alternative means to evaluate personnel during monthly unit promotion boards. For example, they can conduct the proceedings in a virtual environment. It will be up to the command team to determine their proper means of assessment.
“We gave some latitude to the command teams, allowing them to be creative on how they want to assess their Soldiers,” Clark said. “With all of the different virtual options (available) … it gives the commander the option to do (promotion boards) via the internet or in an environment that supports social distancing.”
In addition to virtual boards, leaders can rely on their battalion command sergeants major to make promotion recommendations based on their “one-on-one interactions with an eligible Soldier,” Clark elaborated. Battalion CSMs can obtain input from their chain of command or through the NCO support channel to make an informed decision about an eligible Soldier.
Also starting in May, the Army will temporarily suspend its PME course requirements for staff sergeants and sergeants first class who need to complete the Advanced Leader or Senior Leader courses, respectively, Clark said.
The temporary suspension will not waive the PME requirement, Clark clarified. Soldiers will still be required to complete the course at a later date and will be prioritized first in the training pipeline to ensure they meet this training requirement.
“Soldiers who have always been doing the right thing … by already completing their requisite level of professional military education to qualify themselves for promotion will be selected for advancement before (those who) have not completed their PME,” the sergeant major said.
Soldiers who fail to fully qualify themselves for promotion consideration before reaching their primary zone could put their careers at risk, Clark warned.
Training and Doctrine Command has distance learning options for Soldiers slated to attend the Basic Leader, Master Leader or Sergeants Major courses, therefore, negating a need for an exception to policy for these respected ranks, Clark advised.
For the National Guard only, the force is authorizing the component director to determine the appropriate applicability since the policies on completing PME to qualify for promotion differ. Additional guidance on this decision is forthcoming.
Service leaders also are saying the Army Physical Fitness Test will continue to be a promotion eligibility requirement. However, Soldiers will be able to use their last recorded APFT for promotion recommendation and pin-on, regardless of when the fitness test was administered.
“There are certain organizations that currently are not resourced to perform the ACFT,” Clark said. The Army created this exception to policy to “adhere to the travel restrictions and training restrictions, along with ensuring social distancing.”
The policy exception also prevents Soldiers from falling off of the promotion standing list because of an expired APFT, Clark said. Further, commanders cannot flag Soldiers for failing to take the fitness test during this time.
Soldiers who previously failed the APFT will remain flagged until they can successfully pass their fitness evaluation. Additional guidance will be published at a later date, officials said.
Beyond the APFT, the Army is providing the same extension to weapons qualifications, Clark said. While they’re not tied to a Soldier’s promotion recommendation or pin-on eligibility, a weapons qualification score is incorporated during the unit promotion board process.Until the exception of policy is lifted, a Soldier’s promotion points will be based on their most recent weapons qualification, regardless of when it was completed.